Maria Jenson is recognized as a leader in the arts nationally for advancing innovative strategies to sustain creative communities in the midst of rapidly changing urban environments. As Creative and Executive Director of SOMArts, Jenson has deepened the organization’s commitment to racial equity, creating clear pathways for Bay Area artists to incubate new ideas and grow their careers. Through her leadership, Maria has expanded SOMArts’ educational and public programs, advanced new public-private partnerships, and fostered groundbreaking exhibitions such as The Black Woman is God, The Third Muslim: Queer and Trans* Muslim Narratives of Resistance and Resilience, and many more. These initiatives further SOMArts’ mission to engage the Bay Area’s diverse cultural communities in inspiring creative encounters at the intersection of art and social justice.
As an ardent advocate for the civic and democratic roles cultural institutions should play, Jenson has championed creative projects in community-based and DIY as well as more formal and institutional spaces. Prior to joining SOMArts, Jenson was a key member of the External Relations team in the Marketing and Communications Division managing the transition, rebranding and reopening of SFMOMA during the museum’s $300 million expansion. At SFMOMA, she worked across all departments as a lead project manager on marketing and engagement initiatives and she launched innovative community partnerships as the museum’s Cultural and Civic Ambassador. Jenson produced the museum’s Economic and Cultural Impact study in collaboration with the Boston Consulting Group, demonstrating the crucial role of cultural institutions in the civic and economic life of San Francisco.
Jenson was the Founding Director of ArtPadSF — an independent art fair launched in 2010 in partnership with Chip Conley. ArtPadSF transformed the Phoenix Hotel into an immersive and interactive platform to engage Bay Area artists, gallerists and art lovers, and enjoyed a successful three-year run that helped to launch the careers of many emerging artists.
A graduate of the 2018 Getty Foundation Executive Leadership Institute, Jenson is a sought-after speaker and thought leader on the role of cultural institutions in fostering a more democratic and equitable society. As the Bay Area continues to change, Jenson is leading SOMArts into its next iteration, strengthening and activating all parts of SOMArts' multivalent programming, including growing the organization's site-specific commissions and programs, as well as reinvigorating its artistic presence in the Bay Area.
3 words to describe Nature?
Solitude. Grace. Ancestral
3 things Nature taught you?
3 most treasured Nature spots?
Leo Carillo Beach (Malibu, CA)
Multnomah Falls (Oregon)
When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel...?
At peace and whole
When you see a forest, it makes you feel...?
When you see a volcano, it makes you feel...?
When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel...?
When you hear thunder, it makes you feel...?
Sensual, alert, focused
When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel...?
Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?
On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?
Share with us a childhood nature memory?
Planting a tree in my backyard and watching it grow over the years.